Week ahead at Westminster
- 14 March 2014
- From the section UK Politics
"The House is bored!" a senior backbencher complained to me this week.
There's a certain amount of fag-end legislating to do, Lords amendments to accept and reject, and so forth, but little red legislative meat for parliamentarians to chew on. But this is Budget week, so there is, at least, a budget statement, and, eventually, a Finance Bill to come.
In the past, George Osborne's Finance Bills (the bill which puts the tax changes in the Budget into law) have not always passed the Commons unscathed (remember the "Pasty Tax" and the "Caravan Tax?") and there is always the chance that he might propose some change that arouses ire on the backbenches.
But with big local and euro elections looming, and a General Election glimmering on the horizon, perhaps the appetite for rebellion is fading.
Monday 17th March
The Commons meets at 2.30pm for Defence Questions - with the possibility of ministerial statements or urgent questions to follow at 3.30pm.
The main legislating is the consideration of Lords amendments to the Pensions Bill - followed by a motion to approve the Draft Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme Regulations 2014 - this is the package of compensation regulations under the recently-passed Mesothelioma Act.
And MPs will zoom through all of the stages of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Bill in a single gulp - this is a non-controversial tidying up measure recommended by the Law Commission.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) the main event is day five of committee-stage consideration of the Immigration Bill - this will be devoted to clauses dealing with: the Referral and investigation of proposed Marriages and Civil Partnerships; sham marriage and civil partnership; the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner; the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland; the highly controversial deprivation of citizenship section; embarkation checks; fees and final provisions. (The subject matter will spill over into day six, on Wednesday).
There are a couple of attempts to oppose the inclusion of clauses relating to penalties on employers for failing to check the immigration status of staff.
At this stage of proceedings that usually points to an attempt to test the strength of feeling and draw a minister into offering compromises.
And there will also be a short debate on filling job vacancies in the IT sector.
Tuesday 18th March
The Commons begins (11.30am) with Justice Questions, followed by a Ten Minute Rule Bill from senior Conservative Sir John Randall on protecting the Brown Hare.
Then, a slot has been reserved for consideration of Lords amendments - I suspect this will be the chance for the Commons to respond to the government defeat in the Lords on pension rights for people with two or more low-paid jobs, inflicted by former minister Baroness Hollis.
Then MPs have a chance to hold the general debate on the situation in Ukraine which many of them were demanding last week, and which the government seemed uninterested in scheduling.
The leader of the House deserves some brownie points for listening and responding.
The House will also rattle through a series of Statutory Instruments to set up a Combined Local Authorities covering south Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Merseyside - this is the new vogue in local government to promote cooperation in city regions. Decentralisation minister Greg Clark will preside.
And then there's a motion approve the government's decision not to opt into three EU Proposals on Criminal Procedural Rights - covering safeguards for children and vulnerable people, and access to legal aid. The adjournment debate from Labour's Thomas Docherty is on "Defence in Scotland after 2014".
In Westminster Hall there are some interesting backbencher-led debates on offer: Labour MP Alex Cunningham discusses (9.30 - 11am) the value of teaching assistants in schools - this is aimed at dispelling the attitude that they are a high-cost and low-return intervention in education.
Instead, Mr Cunningham will argue that Teaching Assistants have huge potential to help improve and enrich educational outcomes, but are currently undervalued, underpaid, and their contributions largely unrecognised.
Green MP Caroline Lucas (11 - 11.30am) has a debate on the new Fair Tax Mark - the world's first independent accreditation scheme to certify that a company pays the right amount of corporation tax at the right time and in the right place. It is the brainchild of a team of tax justice campaigners.
And the Conservative Damian Collins returns to a regular campaigning theme with a debate on Insolvency of football clubs and the football creditors rule (2.30 - 4pm).
The rule means football clubs and players get preferential financial treatment when a team goes bust - but critics argue that it is unfair that they should be at the head of the queue for payouts if a club goes into administration, leaving little for other creditors, which might include the printers who do the match programmes, or companies who do the ground maintenance.
He wants the government to legislate to get rid of it - and he's also publishing a private member's bill on football governance which would cover this, and declaration of the identity of the real owners of a club and a fit and proper person test for ownership - all very topical stuff, in the football world.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) peers canter through two third reading debates, on the Deep Sea Mining Bill (a Commons private members bill setting out a legal framework for an embryonic industry) and the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill - where, for the government, Lord Gardner of Kimble will add an amendment on Payment of Horserace Betting Levy by holders of remote operating licences - something intended to level the playing field with bookies operating from shops or stalls.
It doesn't look as if either of those debates will run on too long - and when they're finished peers will debate the situation in Ukraine where the diplomats-turned peers Lord Hannay, Lord Renwick and Lord Kerr are already down on the Speakers List.
A short debate on Chinese inward investment to the UK follows as last business.
Wednesday 19th March
The Commons warms up for a big day with Scottish Questions (11.30am) followed at noon by Prime Minister's Question Time.
But the big event is the Financial Statement AKA the Budget from George Osborne
Westminster Hall hosts the usual range of debates led by backbenchers - and both of the two longer debates caught my eye. The first is Lib Dem Tessa Munt's, on the Conduct of the Metropolitan Police (9.30 - 11am).
Although she is a Somerset MP, she has a constituency case involving the Met - and I understand she has some awkward issues to raise with the government.
Then there's Heidi Alexander's debate (2.30 - 4pm) on Childcare in London - she'll be focusing on recent figures showing the high cost of childcare, and the particular problems this causes for single parents.
Her constituency, Lewisham West, has the second highest proportion of single parents in the country, behind neighbouring Lewisham Deptford.
In the Lords (3pm) the main business is the continuation of the committee stage of the Immigration Bill where the main event is likely to be an amendment from the crossbench super-lawyer Lord Pannick along with Labour human rights lawyer Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws and others to strike out the powers on deprivation of citizenship. This may be a harbinger of a sharp skirmish at report stage.
Then peers move on to debate the report of their Olympic and Paralympic Legacy Committee, Keeping the Flame Alive, led by the Labour Peer, and London politician, Lord Harris of Haringey.
Thursday 20th March
The Commons meets at 9.30am for Transport Questions, followed by questions to then Leader of the House and the House of Commons Commission, in the person of Lib Dem John Thurso. (There might be a few barbs aimed at the Lords as the two houses continue to squabble over whether Westminster needs a big new visitors centre.)
The weekly business statement from the Leader of the House is followed by the continuation of the Budget debate - which will extend into the following week.
Over in Westminster Hall (1.30 - 4.30pm) there's a debate on the contribution of women to the Ordained Ministry of the Church of England, which may prove to be an exercise in keeping up the pressure for the appointment of women bishops.
In the Lords (11am) the main debate is on the level of employment in the United Kingdom led by the Work and Pensions Minister, Lord Freud.
Then peers debate a report from the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege. This came out of the expenses scandal incident, when three MPs and one peer tried to claim that documents relating to their expenses claims were covered by parliamentary privilege and could not be used in court... This was swiftly quashed by the courts, but it resulted in a Government Green paper of Privilege issues and then in this report.
The committee reaffirmed that the principle of free speech in Parliament - including immunity from interference by the courts is a "fundamental liberty" in a democracy, but recommend against following the example of Australia and New Zealand who're moving to codify the long-standing and rather ramshackle law around it (starting with Article 9 of the Bill of Rights).
So, essentially the committee chairman, Lord Brabazon of Tara, will be telling Peers that no action is necessary - although Parliament should stand ready to legislate to protect its ability to operate freely and independently if there are encroachments by ministers or judges (a court recently rejected an attempt to sue Labour peer Lord Triesman for libel over evidence he gave to a parliamentary committee).
One interesting sub-plot is whether the key witness in the Committee's inquiry, the aptly-named former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, will speak in the debate.
He's become a bit of a star witness in select committee inquiries - recently charming the socks off the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill.
Neither House sits on Friday.